What Now?

Dear Friends,


Writing these reflections has heightened my awareness of how uncertain a task it is to honestly describe one’s emotions. It’s not that I wish to deceive; it’s just that I sometimes wonder if I am expressing what I want my feelings to be, rather than being able to admit to what they truly are.  I do my best; but the question lurks in the background, eventually to be better understood.

As of this morning, there have been scheduled for me, a battery of one-year follow-up tests. I’m writing these thoughts, intentionally, before undergoing the tests. I’m curious how I will feel about these reflections after the test results are returned.


August is an auspicious month for me. It is the month of my birth. In the past, I know I often regarded August with a kind of guilt. Here, came I, into the world, demanding attention and the resources from a more turbulent August. Men and women, that August, were giving up their lives by the score, (even on the very day of my birth) precisely to defend the freedoms, discoveries and self-determinations that were my exclusive self-centered preoccupations as a newborn. I recall one family story—retold laughingly, to be sure; but only many years after the apparent distress/delight of it. My Father had apparently—by some, not small, miracle—been able to acquire a small can of Vienna Sausages in our exile in wartime Scotland. He and my Mom determined to share with me, their infant toddler, a small portion of this precious windfall of scarce protein… only to watch me—all delightedly oblivious of their sacrifice—voraciously gulp down one after another of the compact little cylinders of nutrition, until the very last one was gone. Hearing that story as a teen, I found it difficult to believe I could have given my parents any delight or joy at the miracle of my birth. But they always and consistently communicated just that: that I (and my Sister, who came later—in a more halcyon time—into their lives) were the thrilling individuals who blessed their own lives with a particular joy. They wondered at us and nurtured us, as our personalities emerged and we unfolded as human beings under their good care. What a gift it is to be so loved (despite gulping down a whole tin full of Vienna Sausages!) How wondrous that their love continues and sustains me long after their ministry on this Earth is long over.

Life continues to be a gift. Yet, I also think of this August as the anniversary of my cancer (even though the discovery of my cancer actually was made a little earlier, in June 2011). I’ve just been scheduled for a follow-up colonoscopy and a series of “chest-through-pelvic” CT scans (with little input, I might add, from me… It was just “scheduled, period.” [So,” just show up, Chet!”]). I celebrate the period of a year—which, as Monica explains, “I mostly ‘missed.'” I dare say, with not a little justification, that it was mainly she, and my children, who suffered the greatest anxiety and loss during this past year. My neuropathy has changed many of my habits and behaviors, and continues to inhibit me and draws unwanted attention to itself.

I have been humbled (and nurtured, as well) by my friends. I’ve always recognized that I’ve been blessed to have friends; but never had realized, as much as now, that none of them are alike! Each has personal reactions. Every one responds, fears, grieves and consoles very individually and differently. Every one, in ways that would be intolerably embarrassing for me, were it not for the unguarded sincerity and candidness they each have displayed towards me. I have a shelf-full of amazingly diverse books given and recommended to me, several of which I’ve already enjoyed, and others I expect to enjoy. (The books, in their own right, deserve to be a subject of a future blog posting.) During this past year, too, I have lost a dear friend who was diagnosed at the same time as I, but with a more virulent cancer than mine. I only came to know him more closely through our common trek with our unbidden cancerous companion.

I am looking forward, as always, to the year to come.  For quite some time, I’ve been fond of pointing out that each year I celebrate, turns out to have been the “best year of my life”. It ever must be so if I perceive each and every breath as a gift and an opportunity, as, instinctively, I do (reinforced by the little story of that tin of Vienna Sausages and the context within which I consumed them). The predominant thoughts on my mind, as I approach this birthday, are “What Now?” “What will there be to discover and learn in the year to come?” “Have I changed because of the year gone by?” “What has changed?” “How?”

These call to mind a thought-experiment I was encouraged to ponder as a teenager on retreat: “If you knew that you only had but one more day in which to live, what would you do differently?”

Of course, it’s a trick question expressed the way it is, throwing emphasis on itemizing the things one would do differently. The answer, instead, is aimed at comporting one’s daily life so that it is indistinguishable from one’s last day… so that nothing need be done differently. No regrets for actions taken or not taken. No embarrassment for words spoken in thoughtlessness or anger. No missed opportunity to express, enthusiastically, the joy of life or the pleasurable obligations of companionship. And no cessation, either, of ongoing gratitude for God’s abundant grace.

To be sure, only Saints (and sometimes, I’ll warrant; not even, they) succeed in achieving these goals. Apropos of this, I should mention that Monica and I recently brought home a newly-adopted young dog. She’s a “rescue dog,” named “Gracie”. Without our intending it be so, Gracie has taken to assisting me in my endeavors. It is impossible not to observe that Gracie’s got the solution to the thought-experiment down, pat. It may be more challenging for us, mere humans to master the goals suggested by the though-experiment! Lucky, indeed, then, that I appear to have been given more time to work on mine.